At 13, Swayo looks to become Cup's No. 9

He can join elite group by winning for 3rd time in race's 108th renewal

Horse Racing

April 24, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

During the storied history of the Maryland Hunt Cup, only eight horses have ever won three times, and the feat hasn't been accomplished in more than two decades.

Today, in the 108th running in Glyndon, a 13-year-old gelding named Swayo will strive to become the ninth.

Perhaps the toughest timber race in the world, the Hunt Cup will present a formidable challenge to the defending champion.

A stellar 13-horse field has been assembled, including the ageless wonder Young Dubliner, who won the 2002 Hunt Cup at age 13; Make Me A Champ, last week's Grand National victor; Wood Whistle, the Grand National runner-up; and Bug River, who was supplemented to the Hunt Cup after taking the secondary feature on the Grand National card.

"This year is an awfully competitive race," said Swayo's trainer, Ann D. Stewart. "It's always difficult to win with that many entered. You have to sort your way through a lot of traffic. But many thought we couldn't beat these horses before."

Swayo will take to the grueling, four-mile, 22-jump course in the colors of Move Up Stable, a partnership between Stewart and Susie McDonald that purchased the horse from champion steeplechase trainer Jonathan Sheppard after Swayo sustained a bowed tendon.

After some time off to recover from the injury, Swayo was positioned judiciously by Stewart when he returned to competition. In 2000, Stewart's training paid its first big dividend when Swayo captured his first Hunt Cup title under rider Joe Gillet (now known as Joe Davies).

When last year's Hunt Cup arrived, Davies himself was recuperating from an injury and, almost at the last minute, Stewart turned to 16-year-old Chris Gracie, who was magnificent in guiding Swayo to his second Hunt Cup win.

Stewart and Charlie Fenwick Jr., a five-time Hunt Cup winner as a jockey, gave Gracie a guided tour of the course beforehand.

"It was a great start for him," Stewart said of Gracie, who will be aboard Make Me A Champ today. "He was green last year, but after the Hunt Cup he just took off. He has the mental toughness and the riding ability to do the job. It was unusual for a kid that young to do that."

Davies and Swayo will be reunited in today's race.

"Swayo is a great horse, a beautiful jumper who loves what he does," McDonald said. "He's like a deer."

A moderate fourth last week in the Grand National, Swayo usually saves his best for the big one. "He likes this course and doesn't seem to shine except at the Hunt Cup," Stewart said. "He waits for this race to give a good go of it."

Stewart would prefer soft footing, Swayo's personal preference. He has plenty of tightening in two point-to-point races and the Grand National. The long distance certainly suits him because he usually picks up his ground over the jumps, not with his speed.

Move Up Stable received its name from McDonald after she visited a friend who had a horse called Move Up.

`That horse challenged me with every step I took, so I named the stable after him," she said.

Moving up - into the ranks of the elite - is exactly what Swayo is trying to do.

"Every little thing has to go your way in the Hunt Cup," Stewart said. "I never thought I'd win one. If I win a third, I don't know what I'll do."

Three-time Hunt Cup winners

Horse Years

Garry Owen 1901-02, '07

Princeton 1903, '05-06

Blockade 1938-39-40

Winton 1942, '46, '47

Pine Pep 1949-50, '52

Mountain Dew 1962, '65, '67

Jay Trump 1963-64, '66

Cancottage 1980-81, '83

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